JR'S Free Thought Pages
Should Canadians be Concerned about Fascism?
by Johnny Reb, March 2015
There are numerous caricatures on the internet depicting Stephen Harper as a 21st century Adolph Hitler. One caption next to a photo-shopped picture of a Third Reich Harper reads: "From 1939 to 1945 we fought fascists, why should we vote for them today?"
Is there any truth to such insinuations?
First, in any traditional sense the Conservative Party of Canada only pretends to be conservative. On the www.rabble.ca web site parliamentary reporter Karl Nerenberg recently provided a series of reasons why they are not part of the Canadian Conservative political tradition.
Second, there is such a thing as alien abduction, but the "aliens" are not from deep space. Rather the planet has been invaded and its citizens abducted and abused by members of its own species, an abominable mutant called the neo-conservative (aka neo-liberal). Neo-Conservative (or "Neo-Con" & "Theo-Con"), the metamorphic forms of extreme reactionary conservatism beginning with Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney and their ilk, are perhaps not really quite fascist, at least according to generally accepted conceptualizations by political philosophers*. But neither were the conservative political, business, religious and military power factions in 1930's Germany who facilitated Hitler's seamless ascension to absolute power. These German conservatives may not have been fascists but they willingly supported fascism to circumvent the very real possibility of any liberal, socialist or communist party from gaining political power in Germany. Moreover, this ploy by conservative elites was not an isolated case, as history has repeatedly revealed, particularly whenever the political left in its various incarnations was popular with the masses. Conservatives will willingly dance with fascists if it means protecting their historical domination and entitlements.
* Those interested in understanding fascism as a political philosophy may want to consult Robert O Paxton's "Anatomy of Fascism", "Fascism a Very Short Introduction" by Kevin Passmore, "Fascism" by Roger Griffin or the online piece called "Fascism Anyone" by Laurence W. Britt. The intellectual genesis of fascism is derived from a combination of Hegelian idealism and Bismarck style authoritarianism. It was Benito Mussolini who thought up the term fascism which has its origins in the Roman word fasces, a symbol of power, an idea Stephen Harper is obsessed with.
Third, no prime minister pre-dating Stephen Harper, not Paul Martin, Jean Chrétien, Brian Mulroney, Pierre Trudeau, Lester Pearson, John Diefenbaker, Mackenzie King, even R B (Iron Heel) Bennett and beyond, have ever assaulted the very principle of Parliament itself, ever attacked the chief justice of the Supreme Court, ever put a muzzle on scientific research, neutered the parliamentary committee system, engaged in so much smarmy politics, corruption, cronyism, taxpayer funded party propaganda, police state legislation and war mongering. But Harper's neo-conservative dogmatism is even worse than all that. It is a proto-fascist ideological assault on civil rights, freedom of dissent, key elements of the constitutional order and the democratic process, or at least what's left of it. It hangs pictures of the Queen anywhere it can and owes its loyalties to the same dark, anti-democratic, corporatist and imperialist forces that drive the American right wing. At every opportunity in Harper's public appearances we see in the backdrop police and/or military presence with a few token hard hats symbolizing the lie that he really cares about working people and has their support. `
Finally, Canadians will go to the polls this autumn in the first national election since the Stephen Harper Conservative Party won a majority government in 2011 - with less than 40% of the popular vote. There is intense concern among progressives in the country about the prospects of the Conservatives winning another term in office and continuing the move towards Harper transforming Canada into a clone of the USA. The Harper government is moving further and further to the right, bordering on fascism. He will surely cut social programs further, with aspirations to privatize our universal health care program. Harper has aligned himself intimately with American imperialism and its bellicose foreign policies, including its unconditional support of Israeli Zionism. He has joined the US-led air war in Iraq six months ago and is now joining the expansion into Syria. Harper also supports the US installed fascist puppet dictatorship in the Ukraine where another civil war is raging. Not unlike any criticism of Israel, there exists in Canada a vile and ludicrous atmosphere of intellectual dishonesty and intimidation whereby any critique of NATO or our military presence in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine is deemed tantamount to support of Palestine, ISIL or the Russian government of Vladimir Putin. Our pitifully compliant and duplicitous corporate media is essentially a lap dog cheering section for the policies of the Harper government.
Stephen Harper and his anti-science Christian fundamentalist world view has confirmed Canada’s role as a leading climate change denier. He has attacked civil and social rights across the board and is now deepening that assault with the proposed police-state legislation called Bill C-51. Bill C-51 contains several new “national security” provisions which will make it easier for Canada’s political police and other police agencies to spy on, disrupt and pre-emptively arrest people deemed to be a threat to vaguely denied “national interests” and “national security” in Canada. Be extremely skeptical and suspicious of any government making reference to “the national interest” and “security”. Bill C-51 has been condemned by human rights lawyers and advocates, trade unionists, environmentalists, social activists, among many others, who claim its provisions are proto-fascist, aimed squarely at any criticism of government and corporate capitalism.
Fascism - and Neo-conservatism - the dominantly American movement that arose and has achieved its greatest strength in the United States and Britain in the late 1970's and the early 1980's under the leadership of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, arose out of historical conditions that are strikingly similar in nature. In each case, political power is won by a relatively sudden reactionary swing of a minority of the eligible electorate towards a war-like leader, backed by a fawning media and faction of fiercely ideological partisans of old-line patriarchal "family values", hyper-patriotism, imperialism, corporatism and national military glory. In both cases, the social context of this extraordinary and dramatic turn towards the political right is one of perceived cultural crisis. During the past 35 years this neo-fascist ideology has come to dominate politics in the US, Europe and Canada. The similarities to fascism are striking: National military build-up and supremacy as primary public purpose (in the "national interest" we're informed), rabid anti-socialism and anti-social democracy as categorical imperative, Social Darwinist world-view where society is perceived as autonomous self-interested individuals with no obligation to a common good, international terrorism and war crimes as standard and morally acceptable policies to achieve ends (again in the "national interest"), propaganda, surveillance, law and order, increased institutionalized violence, militarization, police brutality and patriarchal logic of action, Orwellian government and lap dog mass-media appeals to ignorance and fear as method of gaining popular political support, systematic benefits to investors and wealthy property holders, financial institutions, banks, oil companies, corporations and military-industrial corporations by the government.
Generally speaking, in both neo-conservative and fascist ideology, the economy, including both labour and capital, is subservient to the hyper-patriotic flag waving anthem singing war mongering nationalist state. In Canada, as in all Western faux-democracies, the state with its endless manipulations of the economy is subservient to entrenched wealth and corporate capitalism. Notice how Wall Street predators have heart palpitations over every word uttered by the Federal Reserve. The DJIA moves in concert with utterances from the head of the Federal Reserve, as it did the other day. Today entrenched wealth and the multinational corporations are in bed with the state. Both are enemies of democracy and the interests of the vast majority of the populace.
So, is this neo-conservative/fascism division merely a distinction without a real substantive difference? It's worthwhile noting that during the 1930s the two Canadian Prime Ministers, R B (Iron Heel) Bennett and Mackenzie (Mommy's Boy) King were admirers of both Hitler and Mussolini. Quite clearly conservatives have shown that they have never had to move their political sentiments very far to the political right in order to endorse totalitarianism - fascist or otherwise.
In either environment - classical fascism or the Harper neo-con brand - big business, the free flow of capital and the exploitation of labour are still provided with blank cheques by the state to operate and make obscene profits under laissez-faire conditions of minimal state intervention (other than the state's facilitation of their parasitic ventures and objectives). Unless strictly controlled of its excesses, capitalism is anti-democratic and flourishes favourably under totalitarian regimes. Mussolini's Italy, Hitler's Germany and Franco's Spain were no exception.
Political movements that can rightly be called fascist were in the forefront and exercised dictatorial power in a number of European countries, particularly during the early 1920s up to 1945. These included Italy’s Benito Mussolini, Germany’s Adolf Hitler, Spain’s Francisco Franco, Portugal’s António de Oliveira Salazar, France’s Philippe Pétain, Hungary’s Miklós Horthy, Romania’s Ion Antonescu and Croatia’s Ante Pavelic. These fascist regimes were known especially for their cunning propaganda and secret police and private thugs who would harass, persecute, beat, imprison and murder their adversaries and political enemies.
Fascism's enemies were primarily left-leaning liberals, socialists, communists, labour leaders, anarchists, atheists and free thinking autonomous inquiring intellectuals. Hitler was a devout Catholic and like the regimes cited above used the established religions of their countries to control and subdue the masses.* Bent on wielding power, propaganda and fear over their populace, they achieved it; in the case of Franco, ruling Spain for 36 years following a brutal civil war (1936-39) in which the Republican side was shamelessly abandoned by the Western democracies.
* Karlheinz Descher's God and the Fascists is the consummate reference for the collusion and complicity of the Catholic Church with fascist Europe. Also highly recommended is Wall Street & the Rise of Hitler by Antony C Sutton.
Both Mussolini and Hitler supported Francisco Franco's fascists militarily and financially during the Spanish Civil War and used the bitter conflict as a proving ground for their burgeoning military. But Conservatives such as Winston Churchill, who never concealed his admiration for Mussolini, supported Franco over the democratically elected Republic which was trying to take Spain out of the Dark Ages of domination and oppression by feudal land barons and the Catholic Church. Hitler and Mussolini could have been stopped in Spain and World War Two likely averted. But no, Churchill and other authoritarian conservatives insisted the Western capitalist countries stay out of Spain during the civil war. But this prohibition did not prevent American and other large corporations such as armament companies and big oil from selling their goods to Franco. It's also important to note that Henry Ford and many other American wealthy conservative elites and industrialists were supporters of Hitler and Mussolini.
Do not delude yourself. Do some serious research on this man Harper's past and his harsh draconian anti-democratic world view. Like most fascists and conservatives - Harper loves war.* Stephen Harper may be a wimpy looking geek but he exercises one-man rule, but only so long as his parliamentary caucus allows him to do so. There are ways of ridding the country of this dangerous man and it's not likely to emerge from his sclerotic obedient Conservative Party. A federal election that will be held later this year provides Canadians an opportunity to remove Harper and his party completely or at the very least, his parliamentary majority. Harper may not be a full-blown fascist in terms of those defined by Hitler's Third Reich or Mussolini's corporatist state but he and his Neo-Cons alarmingly meet many of the 14 criteria of fascism cited in Lawrence Britt's article cited above.
* One wonders whether conservatives like Stephen Harper who love war and weaponry (remember how much he coveted the F-16 killing machine?) and who start wars might have less passion for them if, like the kings and landlords from the past, they had to lead their troops into battle. If this were the case of a cowardly dictatorial bully and chicken hawk like Harper, at least there would be a good chance of improving the gene pool and ratio of peace to war lovers. In a TV news conference a few days ago an all-too-typical flag waving conservative party hack declared that "ISIS has declared war on Canada". Like the non-stop bullshit on the phony war on terrorism, this cavalier statement is a disgraceful lie. The conservative love of war can be traced all the way back to an essay by 18th century conservative icon Edmund Burke.
The crypto-fascist political parties in Europe, the frightening Tea Party wing of the Republican Party in the United States and elsewhere in the world today are more or less far right-wing populists, flaunting anti-immigrant paranoia, rabid nationalism and patriotism, anti-Muslim paranoia, evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity and racism. The extreme-right parties have many liberal and free thinking Europeans worried, given some minor successes at the ballot box. Remember that Adolph Hitler started out leading a minor party far behind the popularity of the social democrat and communist parties in Germany. In both Canada and the U.S., fanatical right-wing individuals hold important positions in government; many are former executives of the massive financial mafia-like institutions such as Goldman Sachs.
The Harper Theo-Cons currently occupy most of the right-wing populist political space in Canada. There is no other political entity attemting to outflank them on the right wing in the way that the Reform party did to the deflated Progressive Conservatives in the 1990s.
The analysis of American right-wing populism by eminent political theorist William E. Connelly has offered his views on the radical Harper Conservatives. Connelly writes about "the angry energy" coming from "the evangelical and capitalist resonance machine." For Connolly, neoconservatives and Christian evangelicals bring out the worst in each other. They intensify opposition to science, environmentalism and equal rights and social justice activists and have on their agenda the privatization of everything within the Canadian public sphere, including our universal health care system. If Harper is elected with a majority in this year's election, our health care system will very likely be up for sale to the private sector. It is happening right now in Britain to the National Health Service (NHS). In his review of This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, Connolly suggests that Christian evangelicals, of which Harper is one (he's a member of the homophobic "end-times" Alliance Church), cannot imagine changes to non-human nature occurring in a universe made by their God.
Sheldon Wolin, an eminent American political scientist, referred to the United States as an inverted totalitarian state, one where citizens have given up believing that governments exist to help its citizens and in which the notion of common good and sense of community animate political life. Politics has become a career for most politicians such as Harper and the idea of public service is foreign to them.
Stephen Harper ought to scare the hell out of anybody who values free thought, open-mindedness, science, logic, reason and the quest for an egalitarian just society. He carries on as tyrants have since the days when Aristotle identified the three forms of governance prevalent in Ancient Greece: rule by one (monarchy, theocracy and other forms of absolute rule), rule by the few (aristocracy, plutocracy or oligarchy) and rule by many (democracy, which we have yet to experience). Is there any sense or belief by Canadians, Americans or Europeans that their country is "rule by the many"? Hardly. The most important defining principle of a democracy is "equality", not as an absolute, but an ideal to which we ought to aspire. With 1% of the world controlling more wealth than the rest of the 99% according to a recent Oxfam report, democracy can only be seen as a farcical sham.
Frances Russell recently reviewed two books that have documented the Conservative leader's attack on parliamentary democracy. In the House of Commons, the Harper Neo-Cons get away with committing outrageous acts against common decency, integrity and intelligence. Gerry Nicholls, a prominent Harper supporter, says that it is how the game is played: if in the very unlikely event that Stephen Harper became Mr. Nice Guy rather than the control freak and dogmatist that he is, his adversaries would increase their attacks.
What Nicholls does not say is that Stephen Harper has brought media manipulation to a new level. The prime minister announced his Bill C-51 anti-terrorism legislation at a Conservative party event. No opposition was present to question him on it. No reporters' questions, not that our lap dog mainstream corporate media (or even the running scared CBC) would ever consider posing a threatening question to the man they audaciously promote and endorse in every election.
The prime minister has the media to relay his message no matter how seriously his actions contradict the workings of democracy or the aspirations of the majority, an idea for which he seems to have utter contempt. Bill C-51 amounts to the government breaking the supreme laws of the land. Here is how the Canadian Bar Association describes the rule of law: "In a decent society it is unthinkable that government, or any officer of government, possesses arbitrary power over the person or the interests of the individual."
In C-51, the "unthinkable" has now been adopted in principle by the House of Commons, including the establishment of a quasi-secret police. While the parliamentary committee hearings are being hijacked by Conservatives anxious to staunch criticism, the media coverage of C-51 and the Canada-wide protests against it remains "balanced," when saturation coverage of the consequences of violating the Constitution is what is required.
The Ottawa Citizen reported how the Conservatives ordered government departments to track all protests, keep the information secret, and share it with partners. This kind of arbitrary exercise of police state power that would never stand up to external examination by experts, but the Conservatives simply bypass constitutional procedures and do it anyway.
The Harper Theo-Cons would have us believe that justice is well served by hateful Old Testament red tooth in claw retribution and vengeance. This idea is consistent with the Biblical narrative that we as humans are born into depravity and "sin", requiring salvation and control by absolutist laws and hierarchical social and political institutions. During what we now refer to as the "Dark Ages", these authoritarian institutions were primarily the churches. This control function is now provided by the state.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in The Social Contract (1762), “Man is born free but is everywhere in chains” and asked why that should be the fate of humankind. An central part of his answer was that a state of nature ought to be reflected in the make-up of the state, But at the time, as it is today, it certainly was not. In The Social Contract Rousseau tried to work out how individual sentiments, contra the Bible, are for the most part naturally conciliatory and fair, but should nevertheless be surrendered to the communal common good. Although he recognized that this implied democracy, he also correctly observed that democracy only works well on a small scale.
In his theory of natural selection and evolution Charles Darwin (1809-1882), demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that humans had evolved from earlier animals, and are themselves animals. We differ from other creatures in degree but not kind. The evidence for Darwin's theories are now overwhelming and are the foundation of modern biology, especially genetics and molecular biology. This was a game-changer, and it put another nail in the coffin of the biblical narrative of special divine creation for humanity. Incredibly, despite this, nearly half the population of the United States, arguably the world’s most scientifically and technologically-advanced country, still believe in Creationism, a century and a half after the publication of The Origin of Species.
As usual with revolutionary thinkers, Darwin’s message was misinterpreted in particular, by Herbert Spencer, who, in spinning the phrase "survival of the fittest" as a natural justification of the domination of the strong over the weak, provided a justification to conservative notions of "might is right", authoritarianism, ruthless capitalism and exploitation, absolutist free market ideology, racism, slavery(condoned in the Bible), colonialism, imperialism, war, patriarchy and misogyny. Contrary to the distortions and hijacking of his theories (called "Social Darwinism"), some of Darwin’s later work was itself determined to demonstrate that natural selection strongly favours cooperation, conciliation, caring and love and random acts of compassion and kindness. By "fittest", Darwin did not mean rabid competition and conflict but rather reproductive fitness, which is strongly correlated with the capabilities of males and females to attract the most desirable members of the opposite sex. Anti-social males who are violent and abusive to their mates and relatives are comparatively rare in the animal kingdom because they are shunned by most females looking for suitable procreative partners. Males fighting to win their females is fairly common, but in most species, the females choose their male partners not the other way around, because there is more at stake for the female since she usually contributes a greater share of parental investment in the offspring. Usually however, parenting is more fairly shared between mothers and fathers in non-human families than in the human, where patriarchal traditions often place extra burdens on women. The great Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin, another close observer of human and other animal behaviour, reinforced Darwin’s findings in his books Mutual Aid, and still more in his last great book, Ethics.
Friedrich Nietzsche had the right idea to look for a better balance between nature, as expressed in the pure upwelling of the individual’s un-socialised will, and nurture, as the codes, laws, and norms imposed on individuals by society, but a Nineteenth Century understanding of the relationship between nature and nurture could not see them as anything but opposed. Basically, the guardians of society Nietzsche criticised started from a position of "nature is bad, nurture is good". Nietzsche’s dilemma was that he saw that society was poisoning the well-springs of natural life, but could not see that returning to nature did not necessarily entail the rejection of core ethical values. The life sciences had yet to demonstrate that those uplifting socially-accommodating values were themselves of natural origin. Of course competition and violence play a role in the story of evolution, but, as Peter Kropotkin rightly observed, “mutual aid is the predominant fact of nature” (Ethics). Another word for mutual aid is love – for example, the mutual love between mothers and their offspring.
Evolutionary biologists such as Robert Trivers have now given precise mathematical explanations of some extremely complex and unexpected results of our affinity to the natural world and other animal species. The capping discovery of ecology and ideas such as James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis with its exposing of the myriad interconnections between not only different life forms but the composition and chemistry of earth, air, oceans and climate, has now annihilated any attempts to continue to maintain exclusivity for any one species. We human animals are undoubtedly all part of one biosphere and if we would continue to live on this planet we must abide by its limits. That includes cooperation, caring and peace; we ignore these ethical imperatives at our peril. The people we choose to lead our countries and make intelligent informed choices is crucial to our very survival. Stephen Harper is clearly not one of those people. Over 99% of all species that have ever existed on our planet are extinct. Are we next?
The renown philosopher of science Karl Popper in his book The Open Society and its Enemies argued that the function of the universal franchise and elections is not to choose good government, but rather to avoid tyrannical or incompetent government. The current form of hierarchical autocratic government exemplified by Harper's Conservatives do not meet any of the criteria of a real bottom-up democracy in which the prospect of "good government" is even remotely possible.
Please remember Popper's words when you show up to vote in the upcoming federal election.
Back to the Our Current Predicament
Legislation aptly described by a right-wing columnist as the "throw away the key act" was introduced to fight crime. This pre-dates the Ancient Greek ideal of dispassionate scrutiny and examination of public affairs by citizens bent on ending the war of all against all that existed when revengeful forms of theocratic justice prevailed. But the real crimes today are being committed by the state, primarily the United States, the real global terrorist, threat to peace, and cause of mayhem, violence and imperialist debacles throughout the world.
In the current state of affairs, electoral successes of the extreme right stem from monopoly capitalism itself. These successes allow the media to throw together, with the same opprobrium, the “populists of the extreme right and those of the extreme left,” obscuring the fact that the former are pro-capitalist (as the term extreme right demonstrates) and thus possible allies for capital, while the latter are the only potentially dangerous opponents of capital’s system of power.
Today trade unions and the political left have all but disappeared and when active have been consistently subjected to vicious attack by the conservative powers of the state and its corporate lackeys including hired thugs, police, military and the standard mass media propaganda.* For example, citizens like Edward Snowden who expose crimes of state capitalism, are deeply concerned about global warming, pollution and the desecration of the natural environment ("eco-terrorists") are referred to as seditious criminals of the capitalist state and subjected to continual harassment by police and their clandestine operatives. One should make note mutatis mutandis, of a similar conjuncture in the United States, although its extreme right is rarely called fascist. The McCarthyism type red scares and witch hunts following both World Wars, just like the Tea Party fanatics and warmongers such as John McCain and Hillary Clinton today, openly defend “liberties”- understood as exclusively belonging to the owners and managers of monopoly capital - against “the government,” who they ludicrously demonize as acceding to the demands of the system’s victims and economically oppressed.
*In a recent piece on the rise of fascism in our Western democracies, John Pilger wrote, "Had the Nazis not invaded Europe, Auschwitz and the Holocaust would not have happened. Had the United States and its satellites not initiated their war of aggression in Iraq in 2003, almost a million people would be alive today; and Islamic State, or ISIS, would not have us in thrall to its savagery. They are the progeny of modern fascism, weaned by the bombs, bloodbaths and lies that are the surreal theatre known as news. Like the fascism of the 1930s and 1940s, big lies are delivered with the precision of a metronome: thanks to an omnipresent, repetitive mass media and its virulent censorship by omission."
"There are no heroic movies about America’s embrace of fascism. During the Second World War, America and Britain went to war against Greeks who had fought heroically against Nazism and were resisting the rise of Greek fascism. In 1967, the CIA helped bring to power a fascist military junta in Athens — as it did in Brazil and most of Latin America. Germans and east Europeans who had colluded with Nazi aggression and crimes against humanity were given safe haven in the US; many were pampered and their talents rewarded. Werner von Braun was the “father” of both the Nazi V-2 terror bomb and the US space programme." (If you want more, follow the link to the complete Pilger article)
The cult of the leader and blind obedience, the uncritical and supreme valorization of pseudo-ethnic or quasi-religious mythological constructs that convey hyper-patriotism and fanaticism and the recruitment of militia goon squads for violent actions make fascism into a force that is difficult to control or reverse once it is set in place with laws like Bill C-51. Mistakes, even beyond irrational deviations from the viewpoint of the social and political interests served by the fascists, are inevitable. Hitler was a truly mentally ill psychopathic individual, yet he was able to convince the big industrialists, the military, wealthy elites, Catholic and Protestant churches and other conservative forces who had put him in power to follow him to the end of his madness, even gaining the support of a very large portion of the working and middle class populations.
Given the need to shake the electorate out of its complacency, docility and antipathy to politics, portraying Stephen Harper and Canada's Conservatives as fascists may seem appropriate based on their authoritarian anti-democratic behaviour and policies.